Best & Worst Moments of SXSW 2011: Day 1

Festival

Yuck at SXSW / Photo by Kathryn Yu
Yuck at SXSW / Photo by Kathryn Yu

BEST GLORIOUS NOISE: YUCK
Maybe it was a trick of the environment -- the cool cobalt light, the perfect 70-degree weather, the endless supply of Lone Star beer -- but when Yuck played Stubb's Wednesday night, it seemed like each guitar note rang a little louder and longer. Their Sonic Youth-channeling shred-pop confection "Get Away" was the peak of their set, showing what the London-based foursome does best: wave after molasses-thick wave of spacey, distorted licks that come across as neither skronky nor showy -- just plain pretty. The slow dive closer "Rubber" drove that point home in all its grungy alt-'90 glory. -- CHRIS MARTINS

BEST BRITPOP REVIVAL: BROTHER
Guess who didn't choose sides during 1995's Battle of Britpop. That would be this quartet from the English city of Slough, who sound as if they nicked the best bits of both Oasis and Blur, even though the members were probably all of five when the fighting was fiercest. In their first-ever U.S. gig at Latitude 30, they confidently ran through a set of inordinately bouncy, earwhig-infested, say-nothing guitar rock that seemed factory-tooled for open-air-festival croon-alongs. (With a nod perhaps to another '90s-era fave, the Happy Mondays, a prodigiously Afro'd young woman chipped in on backing vocals.). Calculated, shameless, and giddy -- but, damn, did it work. I, for one, expect huge things. -- DOUG BROD



James Blake / Photo: Kathryn Yu
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Mona / Photo: Ian Witlen
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Freddie Gibbs / Photo: Kathryn Yu
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BEST HOPE FOR WHITE STRIPES REUNION: JACK WHITE
The guitarist unveiled his new mobile music store, the Third Man Rolling Record Shop, in a downtown parking lot by playing a two-song set, which included a stripped-back version of the White Blood Cells track "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground." -- KEVIN O'DONNELL

BEST EMOTIONAL PAIN: SHARON VAN ETTEN
"I write from a painful place," the 30-year-old New Jersey native recently told SPIN of the inspiration behind her latest release, the seven-song EP Epic. You can say that again. At the Swan Dive venue, just past midnight, Etten played a mournful solo electric ditty, reminiscent early Cat Power, and while her lyrics were largely undistinguishable, the track's title unidentifiable, it didn't matter -- the song gushed emotional ache like blood from an open wound. Words like "pain" and "brave" and "broken" occasionally rose over the five or six simple, tinny electric guitar chords she strummed alone. Even her bassist and drummer watched intently, like they'd never witnessed the emoting force of tangled nerves they in fact support each night. "[I'll] never let myself love like that again," she said. I'd reluctantly advise against it: It sounds like it hurt. -- WILLIAM GOODMAN

BEST RUMBLE: JAMES BLAKE
Dubstep darling James Blake may have broken out live drums and guitar for his SXSW debut at Stubb's, but it was the digitalia that left the biggest impression. When the sub-bass hit on opener "Unluck," it shot through the crowd like a sonic boom, causing arm hairs to stand, pant legs to quake, scalps to tingle, and women to screech. He followed this with a truly dubbed-out take on his famous Feist cover, "Limit to Your Love," whose low end sagged about a thousand percent lower than it does on the album. Best of all, each deep rumble and amplified drum hit cleared a path for Blake's more minimal side -- the soulful croons and keys that contrast so perfectly with the cavernous bombast. -- C.M.

BEST NEXT KINGS OF LEON: MONA
This Nashville quartet, who were recently scooped up by major label Universal, offered up raucous, arena-ready burners reminiscent of the Followill Brothers' smashes like "Sex on Fire." And while singer Nick Brown's vocal style veered occasionally into Steve Perry pomp, it's the vitriolic, lung-busting screams that he unleashed in their set-closing punk anthem that could be the band's secret weapon. -- K.O.

BEST GANGSTA SWAG: FREDDIE GIBBS
Wearing a clean white t-shirt with a bulging Swisher Sweets "cigar" tucked behind his ear, Indiana's Freddie Gibbs delivered a jolt of old school, über-blunted, hypermasculine rap swag to the hip-hop focused Mohawk Patio. Before playing his first song -- a menacing Mexicans With Guns-produced murder fantasy called "Highway to Hell" -- Gibbs led the audience in a chant of "Fuck the police." He later took it to the next level via his single "National Anthem," inspiring the packed crowd to sing along with the oddly infectious chorus: "Fuck the world." The best thing about Gibbs? When he says "Get your hands up," you're not sure if it's a hoedown or a holdup. -- C.M.